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A monument at the Texas State Capitol depicting the Ten Commandments revered in Judaism and Christianity

Judeo-Christian is a term used by many Christians since the 1950s to encompass perceived common ethical values based on Christianity and Judaism. It has become part of American civil religion and is often used to promote inter-religious cooperation. Efforts in recent years have been made to replace the term Judeo-Christian with "Abrahamic religions", to include Islam and avoid supercessionist implications.[1]

The term is also used by scholars to refer to the connections between the precursors of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism in the Second Temple period.

History of the term[edit]

The earliest use of the term "Judeo-Christian" in the historical sense dates to 1829 in the missionary journal of Joseph Wolff,[2] and before that as "Judeo Christian" in a letter from Alexander M'Caul dated October 17, 1821.[3] The former appears in discussions of theories of the emergence of Christianity, and both are used with a different sense from the one common today. "Judeo-Christian" here referred to Jewish converts to Christianity.[4]

Early German use of the term judenchristlich ("Jewish-Christian"), in a decidedly negative sense, can be found in the late writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who emphasized what he saw as neglected aspects of continuity between the Jewish world view and that of Christianity. The expression appears in The Antichrist, published in 1895 and written several years earlier; a fuller development of Nietzsche's argument can be found in a prior work, On the Genealogy of Morality.

Ethical value system[edit]

The present meaning of "Judeo-Christian" regarding ethics first appeared in print in an book review by the English writer George Orwell in 1939, with the phrase "the Judaeo-Christian scheme of morals."[5] The term gained currency in the 1940s, promoted by groups which evolved into the National Conference of Christians and Jews. They intended to fight antisemitism by using a more inclusive idea of values.[6][7] By 1952 Dwight Eisenhower looked to the Founding Fathers of 1776 to say:

"all men are endowed by their Creator." In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal.[8]

Culture wars[edit]

The term became especially significant in American politics, and, promoting "Judeo-Christian values" in the so-called culture wars, usage surged in the 1990s.[9]

James Dobson, a prominent evangelical Christian, said the Judeo-Christian tradition includes the right to display numerous historical documents in Kentucky schools, after they were banned by a federal judge in May 2000 because they were "conveying a very specific governmental endorsement of religion".[10]

Prominent champions of the term also identify it with historic American religious traditions. The politically conservative Jewish columnist Dennis Prager for example, writes:

The concept of Judeo-Christian values does not rest on a claim that the two religions are identical. It promotes the concept there is a shared intersection of values based on the Hebrew Bible ("Torah"), brought into our culture by the founding generations of Biblically oriented Protestants, that is fundamental to American history, cultural identity, and institutions.[11]

Some secularists reject the use of "Judeo-Christian" as a code-word for a particular kind of Christian America,[12] with scant regard to modern Jewish, Catholic, or Christian traditions, including the liberal strains of different faiths, such as Reform Judaism and liberal Protestant Christianity.

Since 9/11[edit]

According to Hartmann et al., usage shifted between 2001 and 2005, with the mainstream media using the term less, in order to characterize America as multicultural. The study finds the term is now most likely to be used by liberals in connection with discussions of Muslim and Islamic inclusion in America, and renewed debate about the separation of church and state.[9]

It is used more than ever by some Conservative thinkers and journalists, who use it to discuss the Islamic threat to America, the dangers of multiculturalism, and moral decay in a materialist, secular age. In 2005 through 2008, Jewish conservative author and radio commentator Dennis Prager published a 19-part series explaining and promoting the concept of Judeo-Christian culture. He believes the Judeo-Christian perspective is under assault from an amoral and materialistic culture that desperately needs its teachings.[13][14]

…only America has called itself Judeo-Christian. America is also unique in that it has always combined secular government with a society based on religious values. Along with the belief in liberty—as opposed to, for example, the European belief in equality, the Muslim belief in theocracy, and the Eastern belief in social conformity—Judeo-Christian values are what distinguish America from all other countries.

Basis of a common concept of the two religions[edit]

Supporters of the Judeo-Christian concept point to the Christian claim that Christianity is the heir to Biblical Judaism, and that the whole logic of Christianity as a religion is that it exists (only) as a religion built upon Judaism. Two major views of the relationship exist, namely New Covenant theology and Dual-covenant theology. In addition, although the order of the books in the Protestant Old Testament (excluding the Biblical apocrypha) and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) differ, the contents of the books are very similar.[15] The majority of the Christian Bible is, in fact, Jewish scripture, and it is used as moral and spiritual teaching material throughout the Christian world. The prophets, patriarchs, and heroes of the Jewish scripture are also known in Christianity, which uses the Jewish text as the basis for its understanding of biblical figures such as Abraham, Elijah, and Moses. As a result, a vast amount of Jewish and Christian teachings are based on a common sacred text.

Efforts in recent years have been made to expand the concept to include Islam, under the rubric of "Abrahamic religions." Abraham played a central role in each religion. This discourse encourages the exploration of something positive, a common faith or “spiritual” bond that Jews, Christians, and Muslims share today as well as the distant past.[16]

Political conservatives[edit]

By the 1950s American conservatives were emphasizing the Judeo-Christian roots of their values.[17] In 1958, economist Elgin Groseclose claimed that it was ideas "drawn from Judeo-Christian Scriptures that have made possible the economic strength and industrial power of this country."[18] Senator Barry Goldwater noted that conservatives "believed the communist projection of man as a producing, consuming animal to be used and discarded was antithetical to all the Judeo-Christian understandings which are the foundations upon which the Republic stands."[19] Ronald Reagan frequently emphasized Judeo-Christian values as necessary ingredients in the fight against Communism. He argued that the Bible contains "all the answers to the problems that face us."[20] Belief in the superiority of Western Judeo-Christian traditions led conservatives to downplay the aspirations of the non-Capitalist Third World to free themselves from colonial rule and to repudiate the value of foreign aid.[21][22]

The emergence of the "Christian right" as a political force and part of the conservative coalition dates from the 1970s. As Wilcox and Robinson conclude:

The Christian Right is an attempt to restore Judeo-Christian values to a country that is in deep moral decline. …[They] believe that society suffers from the lack of a firm basis of Judeo-Christian values and they seek to write laws that embody those values.[23]

Judeo-Christian concept in interfaith relations[edit]

Promoting the concept of United States as a Judeo-Christian nation first became a political program in the 1940s, in response to the growth of anti-Semitism in America. The rise of Nazi anti-semitism in the 1930s led concerned Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to take steps to increase understanding and tolerance.[24]

In this effort, precursors of the National Conference of Christians and Jews created teams consisting of a priest, a rabbi, and a minister, to run programs across the country, and fashion a more pluralistic America, no longer defined as a Christian land, but "one nurtured by three ennobling traditions: Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism....The phrase 'Judeo-Christian' entered the contemporary lexicon as the standard liberal term for the idea that Western values rest on a religious consensus that included Jews."[25]

Through soul-searching in the aftermath of the Holocaust, "there was a revolution in Christian theology in America. […] The greatest shift in Christian attitudes toward the Jewish people since Constantine converted the Roman Empire."[26] The rise of Christian Zionism—that is, religiously motivated Christian interest and support for the state of Israel—along with a growth of philo-Semitism (love of the Jewish people) has increased interest among American Evangelicals in Judaism, especially areas of commonality with their own beliefs (see also Jerusalem in Christianity). During the late 1940s, Evangelical proponents of the new Judeo-Christian approach lobbied Washington for diplomatic support of the new state of Israel. The Evangelicals have never wavered in their support for Israel. On the other hand, by the late 1960s Mainline Protestant denominations and the National Council of Churches were showing more support for the Palestinians than for the Israelis.[27] Interest in and a positive attitude towards America's Judeo-Christian tradition has become mainstream among Evangelicals.[28]

The scriptural basis for this new positive attitude towards Jews among Evangelicals is Genesis 12:3, in which God promises that He will bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants, and curse those who curse them (see also "Abrahamic Covenant"). Other factors in the new philo-Semitism include gratitude to the Jews for contributing to the theological foundations of Christianity and for being the source of the prophets and Jesus; remorse for the Church's history of anti-Semitism; and fear that God will judge the nations at the end of time on the basis of how they treated the Jewish people. Moreover, for many Evangelicals Israel is seen as the instrument through which prophecies of the end times are fulfilled.[29] Great numbers of Christian pilgrims visit Israel, especially in times of trouble for the Jewish state, to offer moral support, and return with an even greater sense of a shared Judeo-Christian heritage.

Jewish responses[edit]

Response of Jews towards the "Judeo-Christian" concept has been mixed. In the 1930s, "In the face of worldwide antisemitic efforts to stigmatize and destroy Judaism, influential Christians and Jews in America labored to uphold it, pushing Judaism from the margins of American religious life towards its very center."[30] During World War II, Jewish chaplains worked with Catholic priests and Protestant ministers to promote goodwill, addressing servicemen who, "in many cases had never seen, much less heard a Rabbi speak before." At funerals for the unknown soldier, rabbis stood alongside the other chaplains and recited prayers in Hebrew. In a much publicized wartime tragedy, the sinking of the Dorchester, the ship's multi-faith chaplains gave up their lifebelts to evacuating seamen and stood together "arm in arm in prayer" as the ship went down. A 1948 postage stamp commemorated their heroism with the words: "interfaith in action."[25]

In the 1950s, "a spiritual and cultural revival washed over American Jewry" in response to the trauma of the Holocaust.[25] American Jews became more confident to be identified as different.

Two notable books addressed the relations between contemporary Judaism and Christianity, Abba Hillel Silver's Where Judaism Differs and Leo Baeck's Judaism and Christianity, both motivated by an impulse to clarify Judaism's distinctiveness "in a world where the term Judeo-Christian had obscured critical differences between the two faiths."[31] Reacting against the blurring of theological distinctions, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits wrote that "Judaism is Judaism because it rejects Christianity, and Christianity is Christianity because it rejects Judaism."[32] Theologian and author Arthur A. Cohen, in The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, questioned the theological validity of the Judeo-Christian concept and suggested that it was essentially an invention of American politics, while Jacob Neusner, in Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition, writes, "The two faiths stand for different people talking about different things to different people."[33]

Law professor Stephen M. Feldman identifies talk of Judeo-Christian tradition as supersessionism:

Once one recognizes that Christianity has historically engendered antisemitism, then this so-called tradition appears as dangerous Christian dogma (at least from a Jewish perspective). For Christians, the concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition comfortably suggests that Judaism progresses into Christianity—that Judaism is somehow completed in Christianity. The concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition flows from the Christian theology of supersession, whereby the Christian covenant (or Testament) with God supersedes the Jewish one. Christianity, according to this myth, reforms and replaces Judaism. The myth therefore implies, first, that Judaism needs reformation and replacement, and second, that modern Judaism remains merely as a "relic". Most importantly the myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition insidiously obscures the real and significant differences between Judaism and Christianity.[34]

Use of term in United States law[edit]

In the case of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), the Supreme Court of the United States held that a state legislature could constitutionally have a paid chaplain to conduct legislative prayers "in the Judeo-Christian tradition." In Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors,[35] the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Supreme Court's holding in the Marsh case meant that the "Chesterfield County could constitutionally exclude Cynthia Simpson, a Wiccan priestess, from leading its legislative prayers, because her faith was not 'in the Judeo-Christian tradition.'" Chesterfield County's board included Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy in its invited list.

See also[edit]

Related terms[edit]


  1. ^ Aaron W. Hughes (2012). Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History. Oxford University Press. pp. 71–75. 
  2. ^ Wolff, Joseph (1829). Missionary Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff, Missionary to the Jews III. London: James Duncan. p. 314. 
  3. ^ M'Caul, Alexander (1820–1821). "Extract of a Letter From Mr. M'Caul". The Jewish Expositor, and Friend of Israel V: 478. 
  4. ^ Judæo-, Judeo- in the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition. Accessed online 2008-07-21
  5. ^ George Orwell; Sonia Orwell; Ian Angus (2000). George Orwell: An age like this, 1920-1940. D.R. Godine. p. 401. 
  6. ^ Mark Silk (1984), Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America, American Quarterly 36(1), 65-85
  7. ^ Sarna, 2004, p.266
  8. ^ Patrick Henry, "'And I Don't Care What It Is': The Tradition-History of a Civil Religion Proof-Text," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March 1981, Vol. 49 Issue 1, pp 35-47 in JSTOR
  9. ^ a b Douglas Hartmann, Xuefeng Zhang, William Wischstadt (2005). One (Multicultural) Nation Under God? Changing Uses and Meanings of the Term "Judeo-Christian" in the American Media. Journal of Media and Religion 4(4), 207-234
  10. ^ Dobson Phd., James C.. One Nation Under God http://www2.focusonthefamily.com/docstudy/newsletters/A000000365.cfm September 2000
  11. ^ Prager, Dennis. "The Case for Judeo-Christian Values, part 5". Worldnetdaily.com, February 15, 2005. Accessed: 2008-07-12.
  12. ^ Martin E. Marty (1986), A Judeo-Christian Looks at the Judeo-Christian Tradition, in The Christian Century, October 5, 1986
  13. ^ "Dennis Prager Publishes Series On Judeo-Christian Values". Traditional Values Coalition. 
  14. ^ Dobson, James. 2000 Template:Dll
  15. ^ The differences are because Rabbinic Judaism uses the Masoretic Text while Protestant Old Testaments are translations of the Masoretic Text that also incorporate the Septuagint and other readings, for example see Isaiah 7:14.
  16. ^ Aaron W. Hughes (2012). Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History. Oxford University Press. pp. 57–75. 
  17. ^ Rossiter, Conservatism in America (1968) p. 268
  18. ^ A. G. Heinsohn G. Jr., ed. Anthology of Conservative Writing in the United States, 1932-1960 (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1962) p. 256.
  19. ^ Barry Morris Goldwater. With No Apologies (1979)
  20. ^ John Kenneth White, Still Seeing Red: How the Cold War Shapes the New American Politics (1998) p 138
  21. ^ Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2002) p. 173
  22. ^ By the 1990s "Judeo-Christian" terminology was now mostly found among conservatives. Douglas Hartmann, et al., "One (Multicultural) Nation Under God? Changing Uses and Meanings of the Term "Judeo-Christian" in the American Media," Journal of Media & Religion, 2005, Vol. 4 Issue 4, pp. 207-234
  23. ^ Clyde Wilcox and Carin Robinson, Onward Christian Soldiers?: The Religious Right in American Politics (2010) p. 13
  24. ^ Sarna, Jonathan. American Judaism, A History (Yale University Press, 2004. p. 266)
  25. ^ a b c Sarna, p. 267
  26. ^ Brog, David. Standing With Israel. 2006.p.13
  27. ^ Caitlyn Carenen, The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (2012)
  28. ^ Paul Charles Merkley, Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007)
  29. ^ Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of Christian Zionism by Stephen Spector, 2008
  30. ^ (Sarna,p.267)
  31. ^ Sarna, p281
  32. ^ Disputation and Dialogue: Readings in the Jewish Christian Encounter, Ed. F. E. Talmage, Ktav, 1975, p. 291.
  33. ^ Jacob Neusner (1990), Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition. New York and London: Trinity Press International and SCM Press. p. 28
  34. ^ Stephen M. Feldman (1998), Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State
  35. ^ "Simpson v. Chesterfield County, No. 04-1045" (PDF). United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 2005. Retrieved 2008-08-16. 

Further reading[edit]

Ethics in U.S.[edit]

Early history of Christianity[edit]

External links[edit]